Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Noyes House

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Institution Name: Vassar College
Original/Historic Place Name: Emma Hartman Noyes House
Location on Campus: bordering lawn "The Circle," now called Noyes Circle
Date(s) of Construction:
1958original construction Saarinen, Eero
Designer: Eero Saarinen
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Modern/post-WWII (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, engineering
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: concrete
Walls: brick
Roof: originally asphalt, currently rubber
1958-present (2006)residence hall

Noyes House (1958) is a brick-faced dormitory built by Eero Saarinen around a grassy circle that was originally a garden laid out by Matthew Vassar. The building consists of a three-story block that conforms in plan to part of the outer radius of the circle. The original plan was to erect two of these blocks, but in the end only one was built. Between the two blocks Saarinen planned a café that was built and today serves as a television meeting room.

Saarinen used Noyes as a compact demonstration of the principles of architectural history. The inner façade of the building is faced with brick pilaster-piers divided by pointed glass windows that run from the ground to above the roofline. They are effectively crystal wedges that give space and light to the rooms. Within each pinnacle, Saarinen hung a single globe lamp, effectively creating a "Gothic" face. On the outer side of the building, away from the garden, Saarinen placed the windows flush with the brick piers delineating a classical face that recalls the piers of the Colosseum or the theater of Marcellus in Rome. Inside and outside faces thus recapitulate the major stylistic themes of architectural history reinterpreted as modern form. One further distinction of the exterior is provided by its over-baked bricks that have the color and variety of a handmade Turkish carpet.

On the inside is a remarkable social space known popularly as "the passion pit" for its 1950's streamlined effects and which is notable for its barrel vault segments that articulate and define the interior space. A sunken circular bench, echoing the plan of the exterior lawn, surrounds a coffee table. Here was where Vassar students could socialize with male callers in the days before Vassar was a co-ed institution.


"College Buildings: Vassar. The Situation Called for an Arc-Like Plan." Architectural Record 126 (September 1959): 168-70.

Collens, Charles. "Vassar College." Architectural Review 123, no. 2411 (January 17, 1923).

Daniels, Elizabeth A. Main to Mudd and More. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College, 1996.

Daniels, Elizabeth A. Bridges to the World: Henry Noble MacCracken and Vassar College. Clinton Corners, NY: College Avenue Press, 1994.

Gaines, Thomas A. The Campus as a Work of Art. New York: Praeger, 1991.

Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Lewis, Dio. The New Gymnastics. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1862.

Linner, Edward R. Vassar: The Remarkable Growth of a Man and His College. Elizabeth A. Daniels, ed. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College, 1984.

Lloyd, Harriet Raymond. Life and Letters of John Howard Raymond. New York: Fords, Howard and Hulbert, 1881.

Lossing, Benson J. Historical Sketch of Vassar College. New York: S. W. Green 1876.

Lossing, Benson J.. Vassar College and Its Founder. New York: C. A. Alvord, 1867.

MacCracken, Henry Noble. The Hickory Limb. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950.

Miscellany News. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.

Plum, Dorothy A., and George B. Dowell. The Great Experiment, A Chronicle of Vassar. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College, 1961.

Saarinen, Eero. "Campus Planning, the Unique World of the University." Architectural Record 128 (November 1960).

Schuyler, Montgomery. "The Architecture of American Colleges: X. Three Women's Colleges: Vassar, Wellesley & Smith." Architectural Record 31 (May 1912).

Swan, Frances W. et al., eds. Communications to the Board of Trustees of Vassar College by Its Founder. New York: Vassar College, 1886.

Van Lengen, Karen, and Lisa Reilly. Vassar College: An Architectural Tour. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.

Vassar Quarterly. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.

Vassar Views, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.

Vassarion. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.


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Last update: November 2006